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       Fledgling, p.24

           Octavia E. Butler
 

  “He said my mothers were his distant relatives,” I said.

  “You remember him?” Margaret asked.

  “I met him after my injury.” I told her about finding my father, my brothers, then almost at once losing them again.

  When I’d finished, she shook her head. “You’ll tell of that several more times during the nights of the Council.” She drew a deep breath. “Your father fled Romania just before the Communists took over. Most Ina had already left or died. I don’t believe any stayed after the war, and I don’t think any family has gone back.

  “Anyway, your father went to your mothers. He and his four remaining symbionts had little more than their clothing and a few pieces of jewelry that had belonged to his mothers, who were dead. He and your mothers and their symbionts left England for the United States shortly after he joined them. When your mothers settled in the state of Washington, they invited him to live with them for a while, until his oldest son came of age, but your father chose to follow our ways and live apart from his mates. Until his sons grew up, he was alone with his symbionts, acquiring property and money, building his first houses, and acquiring a few more symbionts—people who could help him establish a community and help prepare his sons for adult life.”

  “So that when his sons were men and went to him, he was able to help them begin their adult lives,” I said.

  “Yes. He must have been very lonely, but he was a proud man. He did what he believed he should do.”

  I watched her as she spoke. “It’s not the same for me,” I said at last. “When my father’s kinsmen were killed, he was an adult, already mated, and most of his children already born. I’ll be alone with my symbionts, growing up, then bearing and raising my children. I’ll have no one to help me, no one to teach them how to be an adult Ina.”

  She nodded. “That will happen if you permit it. It would be wiser, though, to make friends with several communities of your female secondary families and work for them. Learn from them. I’ve been told that you can stay awake during the day and go out in the sun like humans. Is this true?”

  “I can stay awake,” I said, “but when I go outside, I need to cover as much skin as possible and wear dark glasses. Otherwise, I burn, and I can’t see very well except with very dark glasses. The sun hurts my eyes.”

  “But you’ve walked in it?”

  “I have. I think it makes me hungrier to walk it in, though. I burn a little—my face mostly—then I have to heal. My first wants me to wear sunblock, and one of the Gordon symbionts told me I should get something called a ski mask to cover my face. With that and with dark glasses and gloves, I would be completely covered, but I think I would look very strange.”

  “That’s … Child, do you understand your uniqueness, your great value?”

  “The Silks don’t see me as valuable.”

  She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Stupid, stupid people,” she whispered almost to herself. Then to me, “Are you sleepy during the day? Is it hard to stay awake? Hard to think?”

  “No, I’m alert,” I said. “I tire faster during the day than I do at night, but it isn’t important. I mean, it doesn’t stop me from doing anything. And I can sleep as comfortably at night as during the day.”

  “You are a treasure. You would be an asset to any community since most of humanity works during the day. Most human troublemakers cause trouble during the day. We’ve evolved methods for dealing with this, but there isn’t a community that wouldn’t be happy to have an Ina guardian who could be awake and alert during the day. I know of several cases where it would have saved lives.”

  “It didn’t save my families,” I said. “It did save the Gordons, although I’m pretty sure that it was my being here that put them in danger to begin with.”

  “Only because some of us are fools.” She looked at me for several seconds, then said, “When this business is over, spend a year or two with each of your secondary families if they’ll permit it. They can teach you and you can guard them. Later, when you come of age, you might even adopt a sister from among their more adventurous young daughters before you mate. Find a young girl who feels lost among too many sisters and eager to go out on her own.” She paused. “Do you remember how to read?”

  “I read English and Ina,” I said. “Those are the only two languages I’ve seen in written form since my injury.”

  “You read Ina? Excellent! I hope you’ll teach your children that skill. Some of our people don’t bother to teach their children to read Ina any longer. Some day our native language will be forgotten.”

  I frowned. “Why should it be forgotten? It’s part of our history.”

  “Shori,” she said sadly, wearily, “what do you know of our history?”

  “Almost nothing,” I said, echoing her tone. “I’ve been reading it, though. Hayden loaned me some of his books. That’s how we found out that I could read Ina.”

  “I see,” she said, and she seemed happier. “What are you reading?”

  “The Book of the Goddess,” I said. “I don’t know yet how much of it is truly history. It seems to be some combination of religion, metaphor, and history.”

  “Perhaps. But that’s a very long conversation in itself. Someday, when you’ve had time to relearn more of what you’ve lost, I would love to discuss it with you.”

  She gave me a card that contained her name and address, her phone number, her fax number, and her e-mail address. She laughed as I looked it over. “We used to be so isolated from one another,” she said. “We sent messages by travelers or hired humans to carry messages or packages. We rarely traveled because it was so uncomfortable and so dangerous. Not only were there highwaymen, but local authorities who had to be bribed, and there was always, always the sun. Now travel and communication are so easy. If you need to talk, call me.”

  I thanked her and turned to go but then stopped at the door for a last question. “I wanted to ask you something that is probably very personal, but I think I need to know.”

  She nodded, waiting.

  “Your scent … do you deliberately use it to influence people? I mean, can you control the way it effects people or who it affects?”

  She laughed aloud, laughed for several seconds, stopped, then laughed again. Finally, she said, “Shori, child, I’m an old woman! My scent is barely interesting compared to yours. I don’t want to imagine what you’ll be like by the time you come of age.”

  Twenty-one

  Iran into Daniel on my way out of the building where the Braithwaites were staying. I got the impression he was waiting for me. “Leave the greeting of guests for a little while,” he said. “You and I should talk.”

  I agreed with him, so I followed him back to his house, enjoying the dark, smoky scent of him. It contrasted oddly with his pale, almost translucent skin and his white-blond hair. There were more people than ever milling around the grounds. Peter and Thomas Marcu and their several symbionts were hauling suitcases into Daniel’s guest quarters. Daniel led me past them back toward his own rooms. He kept almost taking my hand. He would reach a little, then catch himself, and drop his hand to his side.

  His quarters were two large wood-paneled rooms, a room-sized closet, and a big bathroom. He sat down in a tall chair and said nothing while I explored. In the bathroom was a huge tub—large enough for two, perhaps three people. There was also a huge walk-in shower with a built-in seat and two shower heads. One shower head was fixed to the tile-covered wall, and the other could be held like a hair dryer and directed anywhere. I had no memory of ever having seen such an opulent bathroom, but there was nothing in it that confused me.

  The bedroom contained a huge bed in the middle of the floor surrounded by bookcases, a stereo system, and a large television.

  I went back to the first room where Daniel waited, looking impatient but not complaining. There was a desk there, a computer, more bookcases, a telephone, file cabinets—like Theodora’s office but much tidier. There were other tall chairs. I pulled one
of them close to him, placing it in front of him, and I sat down.

  “Is there any way for me to be here without tormenting you?” I asked.

  “No,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. I want you here. I’ve wanted you here since I first saw you before you lost your memory. You will mate with us.”

  “I will if you and your brothers still want me.”

  He seemed to relax a little, to let his body sag in the chair. “Of course we do.”

  “Hayden says I’m too young to make such a commitment,” I said.

  He shook his head. “Hayden says a great many things. He says you’re too great a risk because you’re all alone. He says we should look around, find a family with several unmated females. He says you might leave us with only one son or none. He says he would welcome you in a moment if you had even one sister, but you alone … He says it’s too dangerous for our family.”

  I drew a deep breath, and I think I sagged a little, too. “I thought he liked me, that he wanted me as your mate.”

  “Did he say he did?”

  “He didn’t. But he seemed … I don’t know.”

  “Preston wants you. He thinks you’re worth the risk. He says your mothers made genetic alterations directly to the germ line, so that you’ll be able to pass on your strengths to your children. At least some of them will be able to be awake and alert during the day, able to walk in sunlight. Preston says you have the scent of a female who will have no trouble producing children. His sense of smell is legendary among Ina. I believe him.” He paused, leaned forward, took my hands. “My brothers and I will mate with you.”

  I smiled and answered, “I will mate with you and your brothers.” It felt like the thing I should say. It felt formal and right.

  Daniel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened them and without warning came to his feet, pulling me up with him, lifting me off the floor to wrap me in a rough, hard embrace. Nothing more. It didn’t frighten me, didn’t even startle me. On some level, I had expected it. I accepted it. I touched my closed lips to his face, his throat, but not his mouth. I gave him small, chaste kisses. I didn’t bite him. I was surprised that I wanted to. He was Ina, not human, not a potential symbiont, not a temporary food source. And yet, I wanted very much to bite into the tender flesh of his throat, to taste him, to let the sweet, smoky scent of him become a flavor as well.

  I rubbed my face against him, caught up in his scent and my unexpected longing. Then I drew back. He didn’t put me down, but held me comfortably against him. “Why do I want to bite you?” I asked.

  He grinned. “Do you? Good. I thought you might actually do it.”

  “Shall I?”

  “No, little mate, not yet. Not for a few more years. I admit, though, that I half-hoped you would, that maybe with your memory gone, you would simply give in to my scent, my nearness. If you had, well … If you had, no one could prevent our union. No one would even try.”

  “You would be tied to me, wouldn’t you? You would be infertile with other Ina.”

  “I’m already tied to you.”

  “You’re not. I haven’t tied you to me. I won’t until I’m fully adult. I’ll come to you then, if you and your brothers are still unmated and if you still want me. If I live to become adult, then I’ll tie you to me.”

  “Of course you’ll live!”

  I kissed his neck again. This time I licked his throat. He shuddered and let me slide down his body to the floor. “I’ll live if this Council of Judgment is able to stop the attempts on my life,” I said. “Can we just sit and talk about the Council for a few minutes, or would it be easier on you if I went to Preston?”

  “Stay here,” he said. “I’d rather have you with me for a little longer. Here, I can touch you without people thinking that I’m a selfish monster who doesn’t care about his family.”

  I smiled, thinking about the feel of his hands. “You can touch me. You can trust me.” He smelled even more enticing than Joel, but I would not taste him.

  He sat down, reached out with his long wiry arms, caught me around the waist, and lifted me onto his lap. Wright did the same thing whenever he could, and Joel had begun to do it. I decided I liked it and wondered whether I would someday grow too big for them to be able to do it. I hoped not. I leaned against him, content, listening to the deep, steady beat of his heart. “What will happen?” I asked. “Tell me about the Council.”

  “I’ve witnessed seven Councils of Judgment,” he said. “Hayden and Preston take me or one of my brothers along whenever they’re invited to one. They want us to experience them. We won’t be called to serve until we’re around their age, but at least we can begin to understand how things work. We can see that our Councils aren’t games like the trials humans have. The work of a Council of Judgment is to learn the truth and then decide what to do about it within our law. It isn’t about following laws so strictly that the guilty go unpunished or the innocent are made to suffer. It isn’t about protecting everyone’s rights. It’s about finding the truth, period, and then deciding what to do about it.” He hesitated. “Have you seen or read about the trials that go on in this country?”

  I thought for a moment, hoping some memory would come to the surface, but none did. “I don’t remember any,” I said. “Except on a fictional show I saw on Wright’s TV.”

  “Good and bad,” he said. “Human trials are often games to see which lawyer is best able to use the law, the jury’s beliefs and prejudices, and his own theatrical ability to win. There’s talk about justice, of course, but if a murderer has a good lawyer, he might go unpunished even though his guilt is obvious. If an innocent person has a bad lawyer, he might lose and pay with his life or his freedom even though people can see that he’s innocent. Our judges are our elders, people who have lived three, four, five centuries. They sense truth more effectively than people my age, although I can sense it, too.”

  He settled me more comfortably against him. At least I was more comfortable.

  “The problems arise when friendship or family connections get in the way of honest judgment. That can happen to humans and to us. That’s why there are so many on a Council. And that’s why everyone on the Council is related to both sides.”

  “Is a Council ever wrong?” I asked.

  “It’s happened.” He drew a deep breath. “And when it happens, everyone knows it. It’s usually a result of friendship or loyalty causing dishonesty. Or the problem might be fear and intimidation. That kind of injustice hasn’t happened for over a thousand years, but I’ve read about it. It dishonors everyone involved, and everyone remembers. Members of the families that profit from it have difficulty getting mates for their young. Sometimes they don’t survive as families.”

  “They are punished?” I asked.

  “They are ostracized,” he said. “They might survive, but only if they move to some distant part of the world and manage to find mates. Today, with communication so improved, even moving might not work.

  “But you need to know procedure and propriety for this trial. Will you remember what I say? Do you have any trouble remembering new things?”

  “None at all,” I said.

  He looked at me for a moment, then nodded. “You will speak after everyone is welcomed and the proceedings are blessed. Preston will welcome them as host and moderator. Then the oldest person present will offer blessing. Then you’ll speak. You’re making the accusations, so you’ll need to tell your story. You must be tired of doing that, but you’ll do it one more time, very thoroughly and accurately. No one will interrupt you, and most will remember exactly what you say. The Council will listen. Some of them will just want to learn enough to make a decision based on the truth or falsity of what you say. Others will want to find reason to doubt you so that they can better attack you and defend the Silks. And then there are those who will want to defend you against attack.”

  “Why should I need to be defended? The Silks need to be defended.”

  “They will b
e. And their advocate will probably—”

  “Wait a moment. Their advocate? Who’s that?”

  “You and the Silks will both be asked to choose an advocate from among the Council members. You should think about who you’ll want. I suggest you consider Joan Braithwaite, Elizabeth Akhmatova, or either of the Leontyev brothers. We won’t know for sure which member of each family will be on the Council until the first session.”

  “I haven’t met Elizabeth Akhmatova at all.”

  “She’s smart, and she was a good friend of your eldermothers’. She or one of the others will help you if anyone on the Silks’ side tries to show that because of your memory loss, you may be lying or confused or perhaps not even sane.”

  I frowned, feeling pulled toward several questions. “Even if I were all those things, it would not make the Silks less responsible.”

  “But it could, Shori. It could mean that you might not know the difference between lies and truth. You might be delusional, for instance, and able to tell lies that you actually believe. If you’re delusional, if you could be shown to be delusional, then anything you say becomes suspect. Anything you’ve sensed or done may not be as it seems. Tell the complete truth, and remember what you’ve said.”

  “Of course. I would have done that anyway. But what about the Silks’ lies? If they say they didn’t do it, even though they did, how could my being delusional matter?”

  “It might not. But you’re one small person, one child, and the Silks are a large and respected family. There may be people on the Council who are sorry that your two families are dead and who see the guilt of the Silks, but who don’t want to see a third Ina family destroyed. You can count on us—my whole family—to back you up on what almost happened here at Punta Nublada and on what we learned from the prisoners, but you must represent your mothers and your father. You must bring them into the room with you and stand them beside you whenever you can. Do you understand?”

 
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